Vicki Norton wouldn't let down a pound puppy.
"I lived near the pound in Centralia and would go by there about once a week," Norton said. "If I found one they were about to put down, I'd bail them out of jail, get them to the vet, get them groomed and find them a home."
Sometimes she couldn't find someone to adopt the pooches. That is why she had 10 dogs at one point.
But she was largely successful. People knew she was the dog lady.
"If people were looking for a dachshund, they would call me up," she said.
The Centralia home with five acres is gone since she downsized to a Columbia suburb. She now has "just" five dogs.
"They all have parties on their birthdays," said Norton, who is the Smithton Elementary School principal. "One I take to school every year on his birthday and we have a party there."
The Nortons started fostering dogs and finding them homes in 2001, when their son went off to college.
"I grew up with one dog. When my son went to college I needed to mother something," she said.
So every Monday she'd hit the Centralia pound because the kill day was Tuesday. About 40 dogs a year were passing through their home, and the spay and neuter bill was $5,000 a year. "The vet really liked me."
She saw a lot of abused animals, and her favorite -- she says in a whisper so the other four dogs won't hear -- is one that needed a lot of mothering. Annie was a severely malnourished cockapoo who couldn't keep food down. She was sick for the first nine months.
Another of their current brood was also severely abused as part of a puppy mill. Zoey was a Yorkie mix they found with a broken leg that was not set and had bowed, two missing toes, a hernia, eye and gum infections. Eleven of her teeth had to be extracted. The initial vet visit was $500.
Another of their rescue dogs is her husband's buddy. Vicki Norton is quick to point out that Lucy is also the fattest and least disciplined of the bunch.
"She'll ask, 'Do you think Annie's happy? Do you think the dogs are happy?'" Tony Norton said. "She never asks if I'm happy."
He said he knows his place in the pack -- last.
Two boys, Mojo, a 13-year-old Coton de Tulear, and Dexter, their new shih tzu puppy, round out the group.
They all sleep with the Nortons in a king-sized bed. They rise at 4:30 a.m. and go out. Sometimes there's a difficult one hiding under the bed, which makes getting to school on time a challenge for Vicki Norton.
During the day, the dogs have beds in the basement, with their own TV.
"They don't like loud things like Fuse or VH1 -- they are not real hip on that. They like soothing things like HGTV," Vicki Norton said.
The dogs get a treat every time they return from doing their business outside. Some of them have figured out that game, and go out a lot more often than necessary just to get the treat.
While in Centralia, the Nortons were active in a Halloween dog parade, raising funds at school and church for the animal shelter and personally paying for spaying or neutering when someone adopted an animal. They regularly took their dogs to the nursing home.
"The residents would gather in a circle. Mojo would dance on his hind legs for a treat. They would tell stories about their dogs and I'd take their pictures with the dogs," Vicki Norton said. "Some of them would carry those pictures around all day."
Their dogs are smaller now, but they only recently lost their Newfoundland and St. Bernard. The St. Bernard and the other dogs rode in the cab of Tony Norton's small pickup for 90 minutes over the course of more than three years as the Nortons tried to sell their old house in Centralia. They were splitting their lives and animals between the old and new houses after Tony Norton sold his day-care business after 34 years and Vicki moved from teaching kindergarten in Centralia to being principal in Smithton.
While she no longer is haunting the Centralia pound before kill day, she still spends nights on Petfinder.com trying to help people find pooches. She recently found a dog for her Smithton speech teacher and is now on the hunt for a puppy for a first grade teacher.
Half the teachers in Centralia had one of her rescues. Her son has one.
"It never really seemed like a big deal to me. I got so much satisfaction from it," she said. "I know a lot of people, like my parents, think we're crazy."
"There isn't anything that compares with having a pet. I can't wait to get home and see them," Vicki Norton said. "They lower blood pressure and heart rates and have a calming effect. That's why we're so calm," she said with a smile and twinkle in her eye.
"If we feel uptight, we go get another dog."